Total Domination by IndiaNeil Pickup |
Anil Kumble’s maiden Test hundred was the highlight of a second day at the Oval that ended with India in a position of absolute superiority, 640 runs ahead.
From an Indian supporter’s perspective, the only cloud was umpire Ian Howell failing to rule night-watchman Jimmy Anderson leg before wicket to Sreesanth in the fast bowler’s final over of the evening. For a England fan, however, the only way of finding comfort in the day’s play came within the confines of the statistical addict: and even then, the interest in the legion of tumbling records must have felt like finding a long-lost heirloom in the ruins of a lightning-struck house.
It took six and a half overs of the day’s cricket for yesterday’s miserable to become today’s woeful: Matt Prior’s much-criticised judgement and footwork letting his country down again as the wicketkeeper crashed across in front of Andrew Strauss at first slip. What ought to have been a simple chance for the Middlesex man was tipped past him towards the third man boundary, and the tone was set for the day.
Even Sachin Tendulkar, restrained throughout the morning session – and at one point almost overtaken by VVS Laxman from half as many balls – began to open his shoulders as India’s score pushed on past 400. The only thing that prevented Laxman’s score from passing his countryman’s tally was the fact that Prior managed to take the next chance that was offered him, but as the Little Master struck James Anderson for consecutive fours, the Oval crowd sensed a farewell hundred.
One ball later, they were disappointed. A thick outside edge headed straight for Strauss at slip, Prior chose not to deflect it away to the boundary, and Tendulkar had fallen for 82. At 417/6, England still had a chance: had they seen to the tail for 47 runs, rather than the 247 that the last four wickets added, they may still have had. As it was, Mahendra Singh Dhoni led the cavalry charge, bludgeoning England’s tiring attack – now minus a strained Sidebottom – for an increasingly violent 92. His last 38 runs came from just 13 balls, including four maximums, before attempting to deposit Kevin Pietersen’s occasional off-spin into the OCS stand for the third time running and only finding Alastair Cook in the deep.
This was only the cue for Kumble to take the initiative, however. On just 25 when Dhoni departed, the veteran leg-spinner found support from Zaheer Khan – adding 62 for the eighth wicket – and Sreesanth, who contributed 35 to the last-wicket liaison of 73, Kumble chipped, crashed, clubbed and finally chinese cut his way to a first Test century – in his 118th Test.
The shot that brought the milestone – an advance to Pietersen leading to the tiniest of bottom edges that skidded through the legs of the luckless Prior – wasn’t as elegant as the straight six off Monty Panesar that had registered India’s 600, but the visitors’ balcony didn’t care. When Sreesanth finally skewed Panesar to Michael Vaughan at gully, India’s 664 was comfortably their highest Test score in England.
That wasn’t the only record to fall. Kumble’s milestone ended the longest wait for any man to reach his maiden Test hundred – eclipsing Chaminda Vaas’ 97-Test drought, broken against Bangladesh in June. The depth of India’s batting (it was only the twelfth time in Test history that all eleven men have made double figures) led to eight half-century partnerships in the innings – no team had ever seen more than six before. England weren’t without their milestones, too: no specialist wicketkeeper has ever leaked more than the 33 byes Prior missed in the innings.
Chasing leather for two days in vain pursuit of a 600-plus total showed England echoes of an Ashes winter most fans wished they could forget; yet this wasn’t the only flashback they suffered. Andrew Strauss chose to flash another wild hook shot, collected from outside off stump and deposited down long leg’s throat, in England’s eight-over stint in the middle – moving India’s grip on the match from “vice” to “car crusher”.
Were England to achieve the seemingly impossible, win the match and square the series, India’s first-innings tally would be the highest ever losing effort in a Test match. You can get odds of 66/1 on England winning the Test: or, to get better value for your money, you could throw it down a well and guess how long it will take for you to hear the splash.
Anil Kumble 110*, MS Dhoni 92, Dinesh Karthik 91, Sachin Tendulkar 82
James Anderson 4/182, Monty Panesar 2/159
Alastair Cook 12*, James Anderson 5*
Zaheer Khan 1/12